Poverty in America: The Welfare Dilemma

By Ralph Segalman; Asoke Basu | Go to book overview
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HOULT (p. 245) defines poverty as (1) "a scarcity of the means of subsistence" and (2) "a level of living that is below a particular minimum standard." The Theodorsons (p. 307) define it as "a standard of living that lasts long enough to undermine the health, morale and self-respect of an individual or group of individuals. The term is relative to the general standard of living in society, the distribution of wealth, the status system and social expectations." If Hoult's definition is accepted, it becomes a fiscal exercise to determine who is poor. In his exploratory exercise The Measurement of Poverty, Watts provides one of many such economic conceptualizations of the condition. The Theodorsons' definition describes relative deprivation or affluence. In order to identify poverty, they say it is necessary to compare the subjects" wants--or needs--with those of nonpoverty population sectors (also see Theobald).

Milner's work makes it clear that inequality is an inevitable condition in an "equalitarian but striving" society ( 1972a). In such a society, everyone is given a chance to get ahead. Few people realize the corollary to this notion, which is that everyone has the opportunity to be gotten ahead of. In Milner's view, status insecurity is a necessary part of any society which affords both significant inequality and equal opportunity. In such a situation, a person's only defense is to stay ahead: "If others raise their income or education you must raise yours. If others get a new car, you must buy a bigger one" ( 1972b, p. 20). Milner terms this situation status inflation, which he states occurs "when there is a decrease in the social value attributed to a given level of absolute income." Thus, equality of opportunity, status insecurity, and status seeking combine to produce status inflation. Milner asserts that there is a paradoxical conflict between the belief that rights and respect are everyone's equal due, and the belief that there is virtue in individual achievement and that a person's rewards should closely correspond to his achievements. Thus, Milner portrays "equalitarian competition" as an unending relay race. "Whether you will be ahead when you finish your lap is strongly influenced by how far ahead


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Poverty in America: The Welfare Dilemma


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